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Images from Syria prior to the crisis and more recent ones: Syria suffering
Welcome to the homepage of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) In Syria” (AMRIS). There are regular updates on the site. It is hoped you return to dip into the pages as you would a book. Your comments and notes in the margins are welcome.
AMRIS supports the community based Mussalaha (Reconciliation) movement in Syria and works with *ISTEAMS, which rejects all forms of sectarian denominational strife and which presents an alternative to armed conflict and military intervention from outside Syria.
*ISTEAMS: INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT TEAM FOR MUSSALAHA in SYRIA
A focus of the work of AMRIS is to support the “Ten Points towards Reconciliation and Peace in Syria”, which were presented to politicians, community groups, leaders of faith groups, and the media by Mother Agnes Mariam when she visited Australia in October 2012.
1. SUPPORT A CONFLICT RESOLUTION THROUGH NEGOTIATION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF A DEMOCRATIC PROCESS:
H.E. Catherine Ashton, EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has signified the support of the European Union to the mission of Lakhdar Brahimi, UN envoy to Syria. But we ask that this support should be with deeds and not just with words.
2. HELP STOP THE FLOW OF WEAPONS IN SYRIA.
– Do not yield to the temptation to arm even more the rebellion. Do not justify the violence of one or the other.
3.STIGMATIZE THE WAR METHODS THAT ARE AGAINST THE GENEVA CONVENTION: to sneak in to residential neighborhoods (human shields) and to attack Syrian forces and infrastructures, provoking the army to answer brutally, causing lethal damages of civilians and buildings. To sneak in cultural heritage zones (Palmyra, Apamea, Historical centers of ancient cities, museums) and to launch attacks endangering this precious world heritage (cultural shields).
4. RESTRAIN INTERFERENCE FROM ABROAD IN THE SYRIAN CONFLICT, it limits the auto-determination of the Syrian People and jeopardize the efforts for a peaceful settlement.
5. FURNISH HONEST INFORMATION ABOUT THE SYRIAN CONFLICT. The propaganda disinformation harms the cause of Peace. Provide a place for the voice of unbiased witnesses in the media.
6. SUPPORT NEW POLITICAL PARTIES that are proliferating and giving new shape to the Syrian political landscape: in the near future the elections results will transform the Syrian administration…..and change the authorities through democratic and institutional means!
7. STOP THE SANCTIONS that are harming only the civilian populations. As we said shortage of everything is increasing with the difficulty for the Syrian Diaspora prevented to use air flights from and to Syria.
8. FAIR DISTRIBUTE HUMANITARIAN AID: Inside the Syrian territory there is more than one million and the half displaced that are still inside the country. It seems that they are not receiving the same humanitarian aid the “others” refugees are receiving outside the Syrian border. The donations to those outside the border are often used to buy weapons.
9. APPEAL FOR IMPARTIALITY AMONG THE DIVERSES NGOS working for the Syrian conflict, especially in their reports that are until today very much partial.
10. SUPPORT A NEW STATE that will guarantee equality of citizenship and religious freedom to any religious or ethnic group (protection of minorities!). This is a very sensitive question that the events in Syria has presented as very actual.
Coordinator and Contact Person:
Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross
International Roaming Phone: 009613213039
REF: Kairos Magazine, Catholic Journal Vol 23 No 21 Nov 2012 www.cam.org.au/kairos
“Time out with Mother Agnes” by Edwina Hall
“There is no civil war in Syria, there are attempts to make it a civil war, there is pressure to transform the conflict into a sectarian conflict; we have lived this experience in Lebanon, we have seen it in Iraq and today we see it in Syria.”
INFORMATION TO SUPPORT THE TEN POINTS
POINT 1. Support conflict resolution through negotiation and implementation of a democratic process.
The EU’s High Representative, Catherine Ashton, has indicated that the EU supports the mission of Lakhdar Brahimi, as she supported the Annan mission too. But this support should be in deeds and not just words.
1. EU says it supports peace and a political solution and that it stands by the Syrian people.
a. Catherine Ashton said in Brussels on 5 September 2012 that she supports Brahimi and that the EU’s priorities are humanitarian.1
b. She also said in August that “any further militarisation of the conflict by any of the parties can only bring greater suffering to Syria, its citizens, and the region as a whole.” 2
c. Herman van Rompuy stated on 4 June 2012 that the EU supports Annan’s attempts to stop the violence in Syria.3
d. Support for peace is in any case a central goal of the Union for the Mediterranean which also condemns “terrorism in all its forms” (Final Statement of UfM, Marseille, 4 November 2008.)4
2. But in reality the EU and ministers from EU states have declared their open support for the rebels and their hostility to the Syrian government.
a. The EU’s huge list of sanctions (17 rounds) against Syria are all directed against the government of Syria, including its civilian functions (ban on construction of electricity power stations, ban on technology for the oil and gas industries, ban on provisions for new banknotes and coins, freezing of Central Bank funds and sanctions on Syrian government bonds). 5 None are directed against the rebels.
b. The EU Council has stated that “Assad has no place in the future of Syria” (23 July 2012 6) and has called for the use of Chapter VII powers against the Syrian regime by the UN Security Council. This is not an even-handed approach but is instead support for the armed rebellion (which is supported by a minority of the Syrian population).
c. The EU recognised the Syrian National Council on 3 February 2012. Speaking at the EU Council, British FM William Hague said that EU supports “sanctions on the Assad regime”, “practical support for the Syrian opposition”, and that it is working for “Syria after Assad” (Brussels, 23 July 2012 7). This is the same as US policy.8
POINT 2. Help stop the flow of weapons into Syria
Do not yield to the temptation to arm the rebellion even more. Do not justify the violence of one side or the other.
1. Two years of this US-EU interventionist policy has only radicalised the situation on the ground.
a. The UN Security Council was right to condemn as “terrorist” the bomb attacks in Aleppo on 3 October 2012.9 But have the rebels resorted to overtly terrorist tactics precisely because they thought they would never be subject to Western criticism? 10
b. EU and US political support for the rebels has also encouraged the inflow of foreign fighters.11 But if some or perhaps even a majority of the rebels are not Syrian, then where is the EU’s stated support for the Syrian people? 12
c. The rebels are being armed by the West including by EU states. The US role in covertly arming the rebels is a matter of public record.13 But the EU is doing the same thing: British and German operatives are said to be giving decisive logistical help to the rebels. Germany has confirmed the deployment of a spy ship in the Eastern Mediterranean which is providing the rebels with intelligence about the movement of Syrian army troops.14 BND agents are said to be operating in Incirlik.15 British help is not “non-lethal”16 as Hague says but instead helps the rebels militarily, as intelligence is passed to them through Cyprus and Turkey.17
d. A genuinely novel and neutral approach by the EU would provide blue helmet peacekeepers to patrol the borders with Lebanon and Turkey to prevent arms shipments into Syria.
e. At the political level, the EU could also expose how Gulf states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are arming those rebels whom the UN now calls “terrorists”. It could also distance itself from American (and British) covert operations.
POINT 3. Stigmatise those methods of warfare which violate the Geneva conventions
Syria’s rebels attack Syrian forces from residential areas, thereby provoking a military response causing lethal damage to civilians and buildings (the strategy of “human shields”18). It does the same with cultural sites (“cultural shields”).
The EU says it is committed to peace and international law.
It must show this commitment by condemning rebel tactics where appropriate. The EU must be lucid about the classic guerrilla tactic of deliberately provoking the authorities in order to garner support. It must condemn the occupation by rebels of civilian areas19 where Syrian army counter-operations can only cause civilian deaths. It must condemn the rebel practice of executing captured Syrian army soldiers by slitting their throats.20 It must condemn all rebel threats to execute hostages.21 It must at least investigate credible claims of torture committed by rebel forces.22 It must of course condemn the attacks on Christians and indeed all forms of religious persecution.23
POINT 4. Forbid all foreign involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Interventionism limits the self-determination of the Syrian people and jeopardises efforts towards a peaceful solution.
Chronology of intervention in Syria
a. The uprising in Syria started a few months after the US sent Robert S Ford as ambassador to Damascus in January 2011, at the height of the uprising in Egypt. Ford had been No. 2 at the US embassy in Iraq during the bloodiest years of the post-invasion conflict in that country. Shortly after his appointment in January 2011, and thanks to Wikileaks, the State Department admitted giving millions to the Syrian opposition.24 This aid became military throughout 2012.25
b. By the summer of 2012, a Catholic priest was able to report that the rebels are “Libyans, Lebanese militants from the Gulf, Afghans, Turks.”26
c. These foreign fighters are Islamists. As the Syrian government has managed to hold its own against sustained attack by rebels, there has been a significant influx of Jihadist fighters from abroad, especially in 2012.27 The situation has escalated thanks to Western support. An expert at the Council on Foreign Relations comments that the goal of these fighters is “to create an Islamist state in all or part of the country.”28 Islamist fighters have, for instance, come from Libya in the summer of 2012,29 including members of a militia classified as terrorist by the UN.30 Christians have been specifically targeted as have non-Sunni Muslims.31
d. The threat in October 2012 by rebels to execute Iranian hostages32 has highlighted the presence of Iranians fighting on the Syrian army side. This shows that interventionism breeds more interventionism from the other side: Iran itself has said it will fight to defend Syria.33
POINT 5. Furnish honest information about the Syrian conflict
The dissemination of propaganda harms the cause of peace. The EU should provide a forum for unbiased witnesses.
The international press
a. Western media have been quoting claims made by interested parties in the Syrian conflict.34 The most commonly quoted source is a one-man organisation based in the UK called the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights whose claims are usually treated uncritically while Syrian government counter-claims are hedged around with qualifiers that they can not be confirmed.35 A large number of those organisations are in fact US-funded front organisations paid to promote an agenda. See this well-documented article in The Guardian.36
b. Earlier in 2012, the propaganda war fought by Internet activists was clearly integrated into the rebels’ military tactic of taking over residential areas in order to blame the Syrian army for attacks on civilians. The case of the British-Syrian Internet activist, Danny Dayem, who embellished reports on the shelling of civilian areas, was rumbled in the blogosphere and then in the mainstream press.37 Several of the Youtube videos demonstrating the untruths have been removed from the Internet.38 Danny denied the charges but ceased to appear on CNN soon afterwards.39 In December of 2011 US intelligence analyst Stratfor claimed: “most of the opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue.”40
c. Propaganda about massacres played a major role throughout 2012 in order to try to force the UN Security Council to authorise a military attack on Syria along the lines of the Libyan operation. This tactic failed. A massacre was alleged to have been committed at Al-Hula on 25 May 2012 but an alternative account, attributing guilt to the rebels, was given by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung41: it was buried in the official outrage at the opposition’s claim that pro-government militias were responsible. Even the UN Human Rights Council, which concluded by accusing pro-government forces, said, “With regard to the deliberate killing of civilians, the commission was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators.”42 This quote has been omitted from the current Wikipedia entry on the matter.43 Even this report – written by a “Commission” composed of only two people, one of whom is a US diplomat 44 – is subject to caution as its members have not even visited Syria.45 By the time of the Battle of Tremseh, mainstream media outlets were much more sceptical.46
d. The rebels have fought their own propaganda war very bloodily. In August 2012 a Syrian journalist was captured by the Syrian Free Army and one of her staff murdered.47 In June 2012, UK Channel 4 presenter Alex Thompson argued that the Syrian rebels tried to get him killed in order to discredit the regime.48
e. The manipulation of photographs is one of the worst forms of media deformation. This example of photoshop49 used by Austria’s largest circulation newspaper to exaggerate the situation was noticed by a careful reader. The BBC once used an old photo from Iraq to “illustrate” a story from Syria.50
POINT 6. Support the new political parties which are proliferating and giving shape to the Syrian political landscape. Elections are transforming the Syrian political landscape. The regime is changing and can be changed by democratic and institutional means.
a. A major consequence of the reporting on the conflict has been to obscure the fact that Syria is undergoing major political reform at the very moment when the fighting is occurring. In February, Syria adopted a new constitution (the referendum on which the rebels tried to prevent). Article 8 of this new constitution puts an end to the one-party state and introduces a multi-party system based on democratic vote.
b. In accordance with the new constitution, elections were held in May which returned 8 parties of which 2 are in opposition to the leading Baathists. 9 other parties are licensed.51 The armed rebels have condemned the elections and the parties which ran in them. But the role of the EU should be to support this fledgling democracy instead of crushing it by the force of the arms of those who want Islamic rule instead.
7. Stop the sanctions which are harming only the civilian population. Shortages are chronic in Syria including because the Syrian diaspora cannot travel easily to the country.
Both the US52 and the EU have imposed heavy sanctions against Syria.
US sanctions53 have been imposed in 200454, 2005 (twice)55, 2006 (three times)56, 2007 (twice)57, 200858 and 2011.59
Canada imposed sanctions in 2011 and 2012.60
The UK has imposed its own sanctions61 in addition to the 17 rounds of sanctions imposed by the EU62 since 2011, described as “the most far-reaching and sophisticated sanctions operations in support of the protests against the current regime in Syria”.63
EU measures were imposed in December 201164, January 201265, February 201266, March 201267, April 201268; May 201269; June 201270. These follows those adopted in December 200571 and February 200672. It is, incidentally, to be doubted whether the EU has the right in international law to impose sanctions of this kind without the authority of the UN Security Council.73
The Arab League and the UN have also imposed sanctions.
But in the light of what we know about the terrible impact of sanctions on civilians in Iraq74 and Iran75, the EU’s stated commitment to humanitarianism and the plight of civilians sounds hypocritical. In any case, the EU sanctions simply align EU policy with that of the U.S.
POINT 8. Distribute humanitarian aid equitably. There are over 1.5 million IDPs in Syria who receive none or little of the aid given to refugees over the border. Camps outside Syria are controlled by the armed rebels and aid given to refugees is often used to buy arms.
The humanitarian situation in Syria has grown worse as sanctions and political intervention in support of the rebels have intensified.76 The current policy has not improved but worsened the situation on the ground.77 The number of refugees outside Syria has tripled in three months.78 There are 1.5 million IDPs in the country.79
Not only have Syrian IDPs and refugees grown in number, but also tens of thousands of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees previously in Syria have also fled.
The EU is giving a total of over €119 million but the vast majority of this goes to the refugees outside the country.80 This compares with the 27 million Swiss francs the Syrian Arab Red Crescent appealed for in July 2012, to cope with the far greater humanitarian crisis inside the country.81 These refugees have fled after the policy of sanctions and support for the rebels was adopted. In the light of this, how can we say that the EU’s priorities are really humanitarian.
POINT 9. Impartiality from NGOs working on the Syrian conflict. The reports of such NGOs are dangerously partial and this is an area which needs great attention, especially in view of the influence unscrupulous NGOs demonstrably had over the Libyan conflict.
For the role of NGOs in Libya, see this report by the Centre for the Study of Interventionism.82
POINT 10. Support a new state which will guarantee equality of citizenship and religious freedom to all religious and ethnic groups.
Syria is not experiencing civil war but foreign invasion. The EU should be supporting a peaceful transition in Syria, not the brutality of “regime change” on the Libyan model. Refer to references 26, 27, 28, and 29 above.
Footnotes to be completed
1 Statement by the spokesperson of High Representative Catherine Ashton on her phone call with Lakhdar Brahimi, Brussels, 5 September 2012: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/132271.pdf
2 Statement by High Representative Catherine Ashton on the resignation of Mr Annan as the U�-LAS Joint Special Envoy to Syria, Brussels, 2 August 2012: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/132109.pdf
3 Statement at EU-Russia summit, St Petersburg, 4 June 2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18322038 (video)
4 “Final Statement,” Union for the Mediterranean, Marseille, 3 – 4 November 2008: http://www.ufmsecretariat.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/dec-final-Marseille-UfM.pdf
5 EU Restrictive Measures in Force, 18 June 2012, http://eeas.europa.eu/cfsp/sanctions/docs/measures_en.pdf
6 Council conclusions on Syria, 3183rd Foreign Affairs Council Meeting, Brussels, 23 July 2012: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/131962.pdf
7 ” William Hague: EU should offer Syrian oppostion ‘more practical support’ “, Daily Telegraph, 23 July 2012: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9420113/William-Hague-EU-should-offer-Syrian-oppostion-more-practical-support.html
8 “Obama authorizes covert US support for Syrian rebels”, EU Times, 3 August 2012: http://www.eutimes.net/2012/08/obama-authorizes-covert-us-support-for-syrian-rebels/
9 UN Security Council Press Statement, 5 October 2012: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2012/sc10784.doc.htm. For some pictures of the devastation caused by the bomb, including children killed by it, see ” Left to lie where she was cut down: Shocking image of the innocent little girl slaughtered in Syria’s civil war who was denied even some dignity in death”, Daily Mail 3 October 2012: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2212164/Syria-bomb-blasts-leave-40-dead-rebels-strike-heart-pro-Assad-district.html?openGraphAuthor=%2Fhome%2Fsearch.html%3Fs=%26authornamef=Sam+Webb&videoPlayerURL=http%3A%2F%2Fc.brightcove.com%2Fservices%2Fv
10 See Wikipedia on the Al-Nusra terrorist group which has been operating in Syria since 2011 on the rebel side: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Nusra_Front_to_Protect_the_Levant
11 See “Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad”, The Guardian, 23 September 2012: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/23/syria-foreign-fighters-joining-war and ” Al-Qaida turns tide for rebels in battle for eastern Syria” by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, 30 July 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/30/al-qaida-rebels-battle-syria
12 See this interview on RT in a professor at Georgetown University accredits the claim that 95% of the rebels are foreign: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbmczLdvZVY&feature=youtu.be
13 “CIA said to be steering arms to Syrian opposition,” New York Times, 21 Jun 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html?_r=0
rebels with intelligence about the movement of Syrian army troops.
14 BND agents are said to be operating in Incirlik.
15 British help is not “non-lethal”
16 as Hague says but instead helps the rebels militarily, as intelligence is passed to them through Cyprus and Turkey.17